One year free tertiary study comes into force

The Government's flagship policy of free tertiary study starts coming into force on Monday.

Anyone who hasn't studied before will now be able to apply for one year of fees-free university or two years free industry training.

The amount students can claim in allowances and living costs has also been boosted by $50 a week.

The Government plans to make two years of university free by 2021, and three years free by 2024.

The fees-free policy is expected to cost $340 million a year, and the increase to student support a further $270 million a year.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins believes the cost is worth it in the long-term.

"The higher the level of skill, the higher people's incomes tend to be and that's got to be good for them as it means they have a higher standard of living," he says.

"It's also going to be good for the country as we'll have a collectively higher income,

"The people who're more highly educated tend to pay more tax, therefore it's a really good investment on the Government's part because we recoup far more than what we invest over that person's lifetime."

However, National claims the policy is being pushed by ideology instead of evidence.

"They've shown no evidence that the cost of fees is a barrier," says tertiary education spokesperson Paul Goldsmith.

"Large numbers of people are going through tertiary education and on average everybody pays off their debt within seven years."

Mr Goldsmith also questions whether rich people should have the same right to free study as those who are most in need.

"There may have been an argument for spending a bit more money to target those who are really struggling," he says.

"However, instead of doing that they're spending billions to just give more money to everybody."

Mr Hipkins is unapologetic. He says "education is a public good and everyone should have access to it".

"Everybody pays their taxes and therefore everybody should benefit from free tertiary education."

The country's student unions are in celebration mode.

"Tertiary study prepares people much better for the workforce," says Union of Students' Associations president Jonathan Gee.

"What we're creating are more graduates who're work ready – but more than that we're creating a more well-rounded society."

Mr Gee says the boosts to allowances and living costs will make a big difference in the lives of students.

"Over the last few years students have been struggling to meet their basic needs, particularly in light of rising rents and food prices," he says.

"This will allow students to hopefully be able afford a flat that's not cold and damp, as well as other necessities."